June 2nd, 2021 | Sterling

Screening Process Due for an Update? Sport Organizations & Non-Profits Should Consider These Best Practices

What do you do with unexpected downtime? During the prolonged slowdown the world experienced in 2020, many sport organizations and non-profits made good use of the time to identify gaps in critical processes — from improving digital donor engagement channels to enhancing background screening of coaches, volunteers, and employees with technology.

Background screening a critical component of Safe Sport

During a recent roundtable focused on the value of technology-enabled background screening, Interpodia CEO Phil Mowatt noted that the pressure to optimize screening wasn’t driven solely by internal forces. Insurance providers and other stakeholders across the industry have focused on background screening as a crucial component of Safe Sport.

Phil and other expert panelists shared their own insights on questions about screening best practices:

Should screening and records management be decentralized or centralized?

Currently, the way background screening is handled varies, often depending on an organization’s size or resources. Panelists agreed, however, that there are some organizations that have the desire to have a licensing body or centralized repository for housing various certifications and screening results required for safe sport or event participation.

Centralizing offers benefits beyond individual organizations. Greg Frechette, Technology Consultant at Alpine Canada and active ski coach, noted that some individuals coach for more than one sport and may be subject to multiple background checks every year. Likewise, non-profit volunteers may donate their time to more than one organization. Consolidating screening results for governance under a single national administrator could reduce the time and expenses of repeat screenings, making it faster and easier to bring on volunteers when demand peaks, as it did for non-profits offering social safety nets during the pandemic.

The reality is that organizations need the flexibility of a decentralized approach with the stability of a centralized one. Todd Jackson, Director of Insurance and Risk Management for Hockey Canada noted that Hockey Canada is a huge organization with hundreds of thousands of employees, volunteers, and players. Between members and minor hockey associations, Hockey Canada operates with different levels of governance and using the National Policy as guidance, screening is managed by these different levels . Historically, at the national level, we have certainly screened our national staff members including national team staff, as well as volunteers including national event volunteers,” Jackson said. “We then pass on a policy to our members, which our members then govern within each province and territory and in cooperation with their minor hockey associations,” he continued.  The challenge becomes making the process simple for organizations with limited staff and resources; technology can certainly help with that.

Until a more centralized approach can be developed, however, organizations need to have equal access to screening. One example of how that can be put in place is the collaboration between the Coaching Association of Canada and Sterling Backcheck. In a statement announcing the partnership, Lorraine Lafrenière, Chief Executive Officer of the CAC said, “The Coaching Association of Canada and its partners recognize the importance of responsible and ethical coaching, and we are committed to ensuring the safety of all participants in sport. We’re pleased to be working with SterlingBackcheck to help all sport organizations implement a consistent national screening program for their coaches and volunteers.”

How should adjudication of offences — and decisions to deny placement — be handled?

When a criminal background check completed as part of the screening process surfaces information, organizations need to consider several factors. First and foremost, of course, is Safe Sport. But there have been court cases where a person effectively argued that being denied a role with an organization due to a decades-old record is a human rights violation. As a result, a criminal record in and of itself isn’t always a reason to reject an applicant. “It’s never just the severity of the offense, but it’s how long ago it occurred. It’s related to the nature of the role or even the age of the applicant at the time,” said one panelist.

The rules around denying a job based on a criminal record check also vary at the provincial level, so how exemptions can be handled varies too. Some organizations may encounter resistance against centralized adjudication because of a perceived loss of discretionary control by the local clubs since they have the face-to-face interactions with coaches or volunteers.

It’s a challenge that Ilan Yampolsky, Director of Safe Sport & Integrity at Tennis Canada has encountered routinely since he began working there two years ago. As a result, he’s been running an ongoing campaign to explain how the consistency of a shared framework for screening, adjudication, and record-keeping is about using resources efficiently. Ian noted, “We have the subject matter expertise on how to make the best decision and how to follow the best practice.” Of course, there is not a perfect one-size-fits-all approach when the organizations involved range from a tiny rural association of 50 people to a city or regional association of thousands of people. What’s most important is that the framework and support for the process is well established.

What parameters should be established for breadth and frequency of screening?

Another best practice topic broached by the roundtable is the need for international screening. Many organizations have the false impression that if candidates from other countries of origin are now in Canada, then they’ve already passed a criminal record check, or they wouldn’t have been admitted into the country.

Organizations should avoid making that assumption when screening for roles that involve working with children, youth, or other vulnerable populations. Among the panelists, it was noted that there is no single standard set for requiring an international background check. Some require it if an applicant has spent more than six months of the last year outside of Canada. Others look beyond the border if an applicant has lived in Canada for less than two years.

Typically, sport organizations and non-profits also require that background checks be repeated every two to three years. Those standards are holdovers from the days when it was a time-intensive, manual process — not to mention, the space required to maintain and store an ever-growing mountain of paperwork. Now that technology-enabled screening and secure cloud-based storage is more widely available, conducting checks more often may become more commonplace.

The bottom line: Well-established screening policies put people first. They help sport organizations and non-profits meet their obligations to parents of participants. They protect the safety and well-being of children, youth, and other vulnerable populations. And they help ensure that qualified applicants get to experience the fun and excitement of sport in new ways.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.